As the students were working on their bell ringer today (recalling radioactive decay equations), I stood in the middle of class and read the following to them:
He was the only person making his way into the city; he met hundreds and hundreds who were fleeing, and every one of them seemed to be hurt in some way. The eyebrows of some were burned off and skin hung from their faces and hands. Others, because of pain, held their arms up as if carrying something in both hands. Some were vomiting as they walked. Many were naked or in shreds of clothing. On some undressed bodies, the burns had made patterns—of undershirt straps and suspenders and, on the skin of some women (since white repelled the heat from the bomb and dark clothes absorbed it and conducted it to the skin), the shapes of flowers they had had on their kimonos. Many, although injured themselves, supported relatives who were worse off. Almost all had their heads bowed, looked straight ahead, were silent, and showed no expression whatsoever. - "Hiroshima" by John Hersey
Then, I showed them haunting imprints of people killed by the blast...
This was my prelude to starting the discussion on nuclear fission and fusion in chemistry today. And, while the images students undoubtedly saw in their minds upon hearing the above story were gruesome, my purpose was clear. I wanted to evoke strong emotions.
I am reading "Brain Rules" by John Medina, which I enjoy and highly recommend, as the guy is an incredible writer, in addition to being a college professor and a brain guru. I recently finished a chapter titled "Attention" in which Dr. Medina explains how to grab and hold students' focus throughout the lesson.
One of the strategies he uses in his college lectures is employing "hooks." A hook is an emotionally competent stimulus (ECS) or an event that triggers strong emotions. All learning has emotions associated with it, but the stronger they are the better encoded the information becomes. During an emotionally charged event, out brain releases dopamine, which helps information processing and improves memory formation.
Thus, the "Hiroshima" story I read was a hook. But it wasn't just emotionally charged. It was also relevant, which is another key ingredient to a successful hook. If the hook information is unrelated to the topic you're getting ready to discuss, it will not be effective.
Then I got to talking about the pros and cons of nuclear reactions (Hiroshima was hit with a fission bomb named "Little Boy") and gave examples of fission and fusion reactions. That took about 10 minutes followed by students completing and identifying nuclear equations in small groups.
Remember the magic number 10. It is the number of minutes you can hold an audience's attention before it spikes way down. So...
1. Grab your audience with a hook to evoke emotions.
2. Teach 1 big concept for 9 minutes. Explain the big idea. elaborate. Give examples.
3a. Have students apply the concept and teach each other.
3b. Have a new hook ready if you want to keep going for another 10 minutes. The hook gives your audience a much needed brain break and can be used to introduce the next big idea.
4. Repeat, and keep it to 3 (maybe 4) big concepts tops. Less is more.
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